Ownership and Architecture
Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, one of the richest men in America, The Breakers was everything a millionaire of the Gilded Age could want in a summer getaway. A classic Italian palazzo design, the finest American and European craftsmanship, views of the sea, and modern technology combined to make the ideal setting for luxurious living and entertaining.
The Breakers was built from 1893-1895 to replace a smaller, wooden house that had been destroyed by fire. To reduce the risk of another fire, Vanderbilt and his wife, Alice, commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt, a leading architect of the Gilded Age, to design the new structure of steel, brick and limestone; utilities such as the boilers were placed underground and away from the house.
In keeping with the Italian Renaissance style, classical Roman influences are seen in the exterior columns and arches. The breathtaking central Great Hall, with its 50-foot-high ceiling, was inspired by the open-air courtyards of Italy but exudes the grandeur of the Gilded Age. The exquisite tile mosaics in the Billiard Room and double loggia were hand-set by European artisans. The Music Room was constructed by Allard & Sons in France then disassembled and shipped to the United States for reassembly inside the house. The Breakers décor includes the finest materials in the world, including Baccarat crystal for the chandeliers in the Dining Room and platinum leaf in the Morning Room.
Allard and Sons of Paris assisted Hunt with furnishings and fixtures, Austro-American sculptor Karl Bitter designed relief sculpture, and Boston architect Ogden Codman decorated the family quarters. The mansion covers nearly an acre of the 13-acre property and has 70 rooms including 48 bedrooms for family and staff. There are 27 fireplaces. It was equipped with electricity – still a novelty in houses during the Gilded Age – as well as gas for lighting.
In 1948, Countess Széchenyi, a daughter of Cornelius and Alice Vanderbilt to whom ownership of The Breakers had passed, allowed the fledgling Preservation Society of Newport County to begin offering tours of the first floor to the public. In return, the Preservation Society agreed to pay $1 per year and cover operating expenses and maintenance. In 1972, the Preservation Society purchased the house and property from her heirs. The Breakers was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994.
The Breakers has entertained presidents, royalty and guests from across the world for more than 125 years and today is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year. It is the flagship of the Newport Mansions and a world-famous iconic image of the City-by-the-Sea.
Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II
Richard Morris Hunt
Brick faced with Indiana limestone
Ownership transferred to the Preservation Society
The Preservation Society of Newport County broke ground in early June, 2014, on an important historic preservation project at The Breakers. Repairs to the boundary fence and to the underground boiler room of The Breakers began with the removal of fence sections on Shepard Avenue, followed by dismantling of the masonry wall.
The roof of the boiler room, located under the expansive front lawn and behind the caretaker’s cottage, was excavated and then waterproofed. New geofoam lightweight fill was then installed in place of all but the top two feet of soil, to lighten the load on the century-old boiler complex underground.
This is the most spectacular of the Newport mansions. Absolutely incredible. Great audio tour, helpful employees, beautifully maintained. The details are fascinating! Like the other mansions, the tour experience is very organized and the gift store is fantastic.
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